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Could this conflict be the Middle East's last, best chance for peace?

"... let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself ..." --Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

Maybe. Or maybe we should fear the consequences of our most dangerous national illusion: the belief that the United States is invincible. A common characteristic of empire, this belief is fueled by hubris and remains largely unshakable even when empires begin their inevitable decline. And though many American citizens are certain their country is morally superior to all other nations, past or present, the actions of the United States demonstrate its grasp of the first rule of governing: Maintain power at all costs; reward your friends; punish your enemies.

An interesting aspect of this rule is its protean nature. Today's friend might be tomorrow's target in a suitably branded war against some perceived (or manufactured) threat.

Saddam Hussein and our decades-long dance in Iran and Iraq serve as illustration. Wars always serve the national interest.

The people's interest is another matter.

Neocons and "radical Christians" are blithering with delight over events in the Middle East. Wars are a neocon's wet dream, while extremist Christians believe Israel must return to its biblical borders before the rest of the story unfolds according to prophecy. If either of these groups were to convince President Bush of the wisdom of their positions, we could all start throwing apocalypse parties since the military engagement of the United States in one more hellish conflict is likely to hasten the planet's--or at least its human inhabitants'--death rattle.

Who profits when Middle East petroleum supplies are disrupted? Answer: the remaining suppliers. Among them are Texas oil interests who own this administration lock, stock and barrel. Murkier is the relationship between the Bushites and the Saudis.

One thing is clear: Israel has been a reluctant client state of the West since its creation. It was neither guilt over the West's failure to open its doors to Jews fleeing Hitler's Europe; nor guilt over U.S. corporate complicity with Nazi Germany; nor ideological agreement with the Zionist call for a Jewish nation that led to the creation of Israel following World War II. Rather, it was the certainty that oil--and who controls it--would dominate world politics into the next century. Better to have an aid-dependent nation such as Israel in the center of things when the pipelines are placed than to rely solely on unpredictable groups of various ethnicities with competing allegiances. Aiding the endeavor, the Brits did an exemplary job over the course of two world wars of chopping, dicing and dividing the Middle East to suit their own ends.

By the time you read this, rhetoric from warmongers such as William Kristol and Newt Gingrich--further nudged along by the administration's own propagandists--may have succeeded in providing the Bush administration with some Byzantine rationale for "aiding our ally in the Middle East." In a recent Weekly Standard editorial, Kristol suggests the time is ripe for a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. And according to news reports, the same week the Bush administration announced a military equipment sale to Saudi Arabia worth more than $6 billion, it also sped up delivery of "bunker-busting" bombs to Israel.

No one's talking publicly about--and one would hope, not secretly weighing--the possibility of sending American troops. Any expansion of U.S. military action in the Middle East would be a folly so huge, even this administration should know better. But were I to venture a guess, my hunch is the crew of miscreants currently occupying the White House understand (if nothing else) that the United States lacks the resources to carry its crusade against "evil" or "terrorists" or "radical Islamists"--or any other combination of buzzwords one chooses to use--any further.

Cutting off funds to Hamas after it won Palestinian elections (elections the United States strongly supported) and refusing to negotiate with Hezbollah because we've placed it on a "we don't talk with terrorists" list are actions certain to add fuel to the always simmering and sometimes explosive conflict--a decades-long conflict the United States, some would argue, has little interest in seeing resolved despite posturing, accords, agreements or actions that seem to promote peace, but often sow more seeds of discord.

Any sane person might conclude it is time for serious, multilateral talks with anyone willing to come to the table and, given a modicum of vision and a good deal of luck, turn the current chaos into an opportunity for peace. Ironically, it may be our last, best hope for peace. Or the Middle East may just remain another item on the evening news because--besides oil and bloodbaths--what can we expect from that part of the world?

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